Why I Hate the iPhone’s Glass Back

Delicate, heavy, ugly, and slippery. Is that enough?

Key Takeaways

  • The glass back is required for Qi inductive charging, aka wireless charging.
  • It’s harder to replace a cracked iPhone back than a cracked screen.
  • Glass backs probably aren’t going away any time soon.
iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini in red and side by side
Apple

The iPhone’s glass back is heavy, delicate, and ruins otherwise great colors. So why does Apple keep making them?

In its early years, the iPhone’s back was made from aluminum and plastic. Then came the iPhone 4, with its steel rim and glass back, which set the template for the heavy, breakable iPhones of today. Apple saw sense with the iPhone 5, 6, and 7, which were made of light, thin, tough aluminum, but ever since the iPhone 8, we’ve had to live with this nonsense.

What’s Wrong With Glass?

The biggest problem with glass is that it’s breakable. If your iPhone’s screen cracks, you’ll see it and feel it every time you use the phone. If the back cracks, you can just tape it up and ignore it, or put the iPhone in a case. But wouldn’t it be better if it didn’t break at all? 

Replacing a glass back panel is also tricky. Depending on the model of iPhone, you may have to completely disassemble it to get to the back (unless you have access to a special Back Glass Separator machine).

"The glass backs of the iPhone 8, X, XR, and 11 series are fused to the internal components of the phone," writes the Broken Back Glass blog. "Apple uses epoxy glue and small welds to attach the circuit board and other components to the back. This makes it difficult to replace the back glass. In fact, it’s harder to replace the back of the phone than it is to replace the screen."

The other downside of glass is it’s heavy. Not only heavier than plastic, but heavier than thin aluminum, too. Combined with the steel rim of the pro-level iPhones since the Xs, it makes for a dense, heavy package.

And finally, it looks and feels bad. The red iPhone 12, for example, has a beautiful shade offered on the aluminum sides, but around back it’s washed out and pastel-y. The glass on the regular iPhone 12 doesn’t feel too bad, because it's glossy and therefore grippy, but the sandblasted matt finish on the Pro is both ugly and slippery. Cover it up with a case, I say, and make it even heavier.

Why Glass, Anyway?

The only reason to make the rear panel out of glass is to allow Qi charging. Commonly called "wireless" charging, despite the obvious wire that runs to the power supply, Qi chargers use induction to beam electricity into the phone. A metal back would block this transfer, although plastic would be fine.

Qi has many downsides other than the requirement for glass. It’s inefficient compared to a direct connection, and the efficiency drops even further if you don’t align the phone perfectly on the charging pad. You also can’t pick up and use the phone while it’s charging, which you can do easily with a cable charger.

Apple's MagSafe Duo charger in white
Apple

These are mere inconveniences for the individual, but on the macro, global scale, that charging inefficiency is an environmental disaster. This is especially ironic given that Apple stopped putting USB chargers in iPhone boxes for environmental reasons.

Between Qi, and the new MagSafe charger for the iPhone 12, Apple seems committed to inefficient charging, and therefore the glass back. So, I guess if you’re a fellow glass hater, you’ll have to either live with the cracks, or buy a case.